Drought or Drown – what not to plant?

by AnneWareham on April 14, 2013

Post image for Drought or Drown – what not to plant?

Noel Kingsbury has just published a piece in the Telegraph online, wonderfully identified in the link as ‘Middle Column Puff’ , about rainier gardening. It’s about gardening in the New Wet and follows his previous, recent piece about how we still need to save water even if it is a bit wet.

I confess I have ended up a little confused about whether it matters or doesn’t matter to our gardens that we’re drowning one minute and droughting the next Or what we might do, or not bother doing.

I know that at Veddw, where we still have standing water, we are trying to save our yew hedging which is suffering from the waterlogging and that the wet has made box blight worse, but these are my own experiences. About an hour’s drive from Noel’s patch, which may be very different.

But I know I’ve been reading this stuff for some years now. What to plant for global warming. What to plant for drought/wet/cold/heatwaves. They have to be popular articles because we all worry ourselves silly about what’s happening to our gardens in funny weather.

But the ‘what to plant’ angle is just mad. Is anyone going to go out and replant their entire garden on the basis of a bad season and more unreliable predictions? And if they don’t, what’s the point of knowing what might be good to plant if you did? Especially with a plant list usually of about 25 plants.

Anyone making more sense of all this than I have managed??

Anne Wareham

( if you like this stuff, please subscribe – at bottom of right hand bar – and save me trying to reach you other ways…XXX)

Conservatory, Veddw April copyright Anne Wareham

Conservatory – a little climate control possible..

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Sue Beesley April 14, 2013 at 7:08 pm

In the end, a heavy soil like yours is more likely to be persistently wet when it rains, and a light soil like mine is more likely to be troublesomely dry when it doesn’t. We should plant to suit our soil, aspect and latitude and ignore the media’s crystal-ball-gazing sensationalism.

No-one really has any clear idea how climate change will affect the UK, sitting as it does on a four-way crossroads between warm Europe and cold Arctic and between the wet Atlantic westerlies and dry continental east. Increased changeability is the most likely future. Choosing plants that grow strong and healthy on our land and in our locality gives them the best chance of coping with whatever the future may throw at them.

AnneWareham April 14, 2013 at 7:56 pm

Thank you, Sue. I do find I get to love plants that grow well and exude happiness in their situation..

Claudia de Yong April 15, 2013 at 8:06 pm

At last I have a reason why I seem to be labelled as a water gardener ! And I thought it was because I was a bit nuts!

I think it’s because we British like a challenge and if we couldn’t garden due to the weather what else would we have to talk about!

AnneWareham April 15, 2013 at 11:32 pm


Maggie Biss April 14, 2013 at 10:29 pm

Hi Sue and Anne
You have missed another dimension Sue. We have wonderful fertile light Herefordshire soil. A south west facing hillside. Everything grows wonderfully (and plants exude happiness Anne!) during what is considered to be normal weather conditions – but we are at the bottom of the hillside and this last year or so with the abnormal weather patterns, the water table has risen dramatically and plants that do so well in what we consider to be normal rain fall levels now get totally drowned and die. So what do I plant?
I don’t have much option other than to see what happens next but here it isn’t just a matter of soil type as you suggest.

AnneWareham April 14, 2013 at 10:34 pm

Yes – I don’t think that it’s easy to know just what is happening to the water underground.(is it moving at all?) Or what the plants feel about having their feet in it all the time..

Sue Beesley April 15, 2013 at 12:47 pm

Thought I’d covered that off in ‘aspect’ 🙂 For me that sums up which way the land faces, whether you’re in a frost pocket, how high the table is etc. But yes, this has been an exceptionally wet year. And this time last year we were fretting about drought….

Desert Dweller/David C. April 15, 2013 at 5:27 am

I think some worry too much – after a historic freeze 2 years ago, the same people who preach global warming were claiming a few natives (they dislike) were not hardy! Just have fun and enjoy all that make it and learn, I say. Extremes have always happened, and no matter the cause, there is much to rejoice in.

AnneWareham April 15, 2013 at 8:41 am

There certainly have always been extremes, and gardening has always involved coping with them. And then coming to strange conclusions about them…

Naomi April 15, 2013 at 8:30 am

We just don’t know, too tricky to make sense of it! I have a tiny garden that we are designing from scratch this year and a lot of it will be trial and error. I am too stressed trying to keep my Auricula’s alive to worry about much else… that and I seem to have ordered every James Wong seed going for my new ‘veg patch’!!

AnneWareham April 15, 2013 at 8:42 am

Ah, at least most veggies are annuals and with them, each new year is a new start…

John April 15, 2013 at 11:06 am

No-one can predict the weather. A couple of years ago we were told that lawns would die out as it became too dry for them. Rather than desiccating, mine drowned last year and through the winter. Even though I’m at the top of a hill, the heavy clay soil means waterlogging, indeed standing water. But my approach has been to build up stocks of garden compost and, every 5 years, I choose an area of the garden to dig up and dig in that accumulation of compost together with mounds of grit. Meanwhile I choose plants which need a variety of conditions and bung them in all together. So whatever the weather, some flourish, some meander along and some die. So all is never lost.

AnneWareham April 15, 2013 at 11:08 am

Ah! This explains the ‘plantsman’s garden’!

Paul Steer April 15, 2013 at 12:24 pm

As you know if you read my blog, I am only a gardener in the sense I have a garden and I sometimes plant things in it . Would it not be an idea to look at what flourishes in the ungardened areas of our local environment and see what lives happily there ? There are sure to be plants from the same family/genus (is that the same thing?) that we can purchase to put in our gardens. When I say local I mean in the sense of soil type and position. It is a bit expensive to buy plants that will die because they may be in the wrong place, but we seem to love doing that anyway !

AnneWareham April 15, 2013 at 12:31 pm

Well it’s a good idea. Apart from the inclination gardeners have to buy plants from all over the world…? Even plants of same species (don’t ask!) may enjoy very different conditions. And our conditions are changing all the time, too…
But I think you are a gardener. Who else would write to Monty Don so often!? XXXX

Paul Steer April 15, 2013 at 4:37 pm

Ah ! So that is the definition of a gardener … In that case I am most certainly qualified, not that the Don reads my letters.

AnneWareham April 15, 2013 at 11:28 pm

No, but we do!

Wm. Martin. July 14, 2013 at 10:41 pm

Been preaching this for years..the majority of garden makers are sorely lacking in knowledge (if they tried to cook with such scant knowledge….) and the commercial plant trade just love that level of expertise! LOOK around you to see what works…use a selection of these for a backbone and THEN experiment with the more unknown stuff..This method will at least get a garden up and running and SAVE you time and money and i might add the many precious resources gardeners notoriously waste in pursuit of the sustainable!

Nigel Boldero April 15, 2013 at 3:00 pm

Hi Anne

I’m vexed about ‘what to plant’ like you. I agree that it isn’t practical to expect people to replant their whole garden to cope with wetness/ unpredictability. I’ve just written a series of articles about the garden/er and climate change suggesting that we can do things to both prepare the garden inn advance and to be watchful and diligent (what I call the ‘constant gardener’) in the short term to try and ameliorate the impact of the unexpected. I’m just about to do a fourth piece on the sorts of information and intelligence we can look to that might help us reduce the impact of unpredictable weather- looking at long term weather forecasting, plant hardiness and quality measures (like the AGM) and ‘advance warning’ of particular pests and diseases that are weather influenced/related. I guess that at the end of the day we can’t plant for every eventuality, but at least we can go for things (over time) which have proven their resilience/ quality and do other things to reduce the impact of weather events on those plants that are more susceptible. If you’d care to take a look you can see the series to date at the blog address below- the series is titled ‘Four Seasons in One Day’- any comments or additional ideas always welcomed!

Best wishes,

Nigel Boldero

AnneWareham April 15, 2013 at 11:28 pm

Thank you, Nigel.

Jane Stevens April 15, 2013 at 6:25 pm

But Anne, I thought that was a very good observational article on plants, water, drainage and surprising anomalies which are noticed under different conditions. I thought it was really useful and interesting.
It didn’t seem to be saying plant differently or sensationalising anything, just doing what proper gardening writers ought to do, telling us of stuff that arises from real experience. You can’t just put your hands over your ears and say only tell me one thing at a time and stick to it. We all know gardening is more complicated than that. I find it hard to believe people still deny global warming and wish it weren’t true myself. But anyone with flooding and drainage issues, of whom there are many, whether they believe climate change is man-made or not, would perhaps have found it helpful.

AnneWareham April 15, 2013 at 11:31 pm

I was principally commenting on the ‘what to plant’ issue,Jane. To the rest, I admit my confusion.

I do think the fact that the last 10 years haven’t seen any global warming does call the whole climate change panic into question..In spite of our drainage issues! (solution = drains, we hope)

Jane Stevens April 16, 2013 at 12:37 pm

I’m so astonished at the notion that there has been no evidence of global warming, what we should be calling climate change, over the last 10 years, that you’ve completely shut me up!

AnneWareham April 16, 2013 at 1:00 pm

See – http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/environment/climatechange/9787662/Global-warming-at-a-standstill-new-Met-Office-figures-show.html Also this: http://wattsupwiththat.com/2013/04/16/the-msm-finally-notices-the-pause/

Though there’s still a lot of fudge and ‘we should be really really scared going on! (there’s money in Climate Change) XXX

(O, and now you can un shutup!)

Tristan Gregory April 16, 2013 at 6:38 pm

The weather will do as it pleases and its extremes will cull many an experiment but the only guanantee of failure is poor soil management by which I mean trying too hard.
Double digging was invented by Victorian head gardeners to keep armies of boys busy and tired over winter but the damage it does to the top soil / sub soil interface will take fifteen years to recover and will leave you in sole charge of your growing medium with minimal help from fungus, bacteria and worms. This is the principal reason why farmers fields are so poor this year – not the weather.
The soil is more fragile and complicated than your car and as you don’t fix that with a spade the same should be true of your garden.

AnneWareham April 16, 2013 at 10:23 pm

This is true and very well put. So I hope you’ll excuse us digging a drainage trench!

Pat Webster April 17, 2013 at 5:10 pm

Wherever they live, it seems that everyone is complaining about the weather this year — see my most recent blog post (glenvilla.blogspot.com) about the unseasonably (and quite unreasonably) late spring, aka, the spring that wasn’t, or isn’t, but yet may be. Plants in the Boston, Massachusetts area are at least two weeks behind last year, and my garden in rural Quebec, east of Montreal, even farther behind. We had something like 15 cms of snow on April 12. That isn’t seasonal – that’s outrageous. Because where there is snow, there soon will be snow-melt, which means water, much too much of it.

AnneWareham April 17, 2013 at 5:26 pm

Yes. The weather continues to be a real pain and a worry to a great many people. I’m so sorry for the people whose livelihoods have been damaged and the Welsh farmers who lost thousands of sheep and lambs in unseasonal snow.